Sunday, January 4, 2004

Ex-con questioned in I-270 shootings


Police visit Columbus man's home twice, search son's car

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A Columbus man and members of his family have been questioned repeatedly in a string of shootings around the city's outerbelt, a newspaper reported Saturday.

James Gearheart is one of hundreds of people questioned by law enforcement investigating 18 related shootings along Interstate 270 in southern Franklin County, including the Nov. 26 killing of 62-year-old Gail Knisley.

Investigators have visited Gearheart's house twice, questioned him about firearms purchases and searched the car his son was driving.

Gearheart, 55, was released from prison 20 years ago. The former safecracker told the Columbus Dispatch that investigators said they'd received several calls about him. There was no answer Saturday at a telephone listing for the family.

"I can call on my next-door neighbor and tell them he has a gun, and he goes on the list," Gearheart said. "I've asked them to give me a polygraph test to get it over with and get my name off the list."

A message seeking comment was left Saturday with the detective bureau of the Franklin County Sheriff's office, which is leading the shootings investigation.

More than 3,100 tips were called in to the shootings task force as of Friday, and investigators have said about one in five come from people reporting on neighbors and family members.

Franklin County sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Martin has said several people brought in for questioning were cleared after taking lie detector tests.

The newspaper said other people questioned by the shootings task force declined interviews when contacted by a reporter.

Gearheart said officers asked him last Sunday whether he sold somebody an Italian sniper rifle, drove a white van or kept guns in the house, he said. He said investigators returned Friday with a list of firearms bought by his wife. Gearheart, who served prison terms in Ohio and California before his release in 1984, can't own firearms legally.

"Now they want me to bring them in so they can fire them," said Gearheart, who denied any involvement in or knowledge of the shootings. "I know if I take those guns down there, I won't get them back. All because of nothing."

On Tuesday, police stopped Gearheart's teenage son, questioned him and searched the car he was driving. The son was cited for not wearing a seat belt and not using a turn signal.

"They asked if there were guns in the car - guns or knives," said 16-year-old Justin Gearheart.




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